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Health of force key to COVID response, says Guard’s top leader

By National Guard Bureau | March 16, 2020

ARLINGTON, Va. – Taking care of Guard members and ensuring our nation has a healthy force ready to address the myriad effects resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic are among the chief concerns of the National Guard’s top leader.

“My No. 1 priority is taking care of our National Guard Soldiers, Airmen and their families,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, National Guard Bureau chief. “The readiness of our force will be critical to the success of this nation’s COVID-19 response efforts.”

Lengyel’s announcement comes on the heels of a recent secretary of defense edict banning domestic travel for DoD troops, civilian personnel and their families until May 11.

“These restrictions are necessary to preserve force readiness and to limit the spread of the virus,” said Lengyel, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We must preserve the health and welfare of our Guard members, their families and the communities we serve.”

To date, there are about 670 Guard members in 15 states called up to support COVID-19 response efforts. Guardsmen and women have been distributing food, sanitizing public areas and coordinating response efforts with state emergency managers.

Nearly 80 percent of the National Guard is part-time, “traditional” Guard members; most required to train one-weekend-a-month. Lengyel said his National Guard Bureau team is working with the adjutants general in the 50 states, three territories and District of Columbia to address Guard-specific impacts such as weekend training and duty status requirements.

“I trust the TAGs will continue to make decisions at their level to ensure our force of 450,000 people will be ready when their governors call,” Lengyel said, adding leaders may consider virtual training options as an alternative.

The chief likened the challenges posed by the COVID-19 epidemic similar to responding to 54 hurricanes – ranging in severity from Category 1 to Category 5.

“Bottom line, our force must remain flexible, innovative and ready to help America mitigate the impacts of this virus,” Lengyel said.